Canemaker Article and Interview

John Canemaker’s opinion piece in the WALL STREET JOURNAL, documenting the demise of hand-drawn animation at Disney, can now be read on-line HERE. Canemaker, who is one of our foremost historians on the art of Disney animation, is succinct and doesn’t mince words. He writes, “…for me, as an animation historian, Disney’s decision to eliminate hand-drawn animation for its features is sad. It implies on the part of management disrespect for the studio’s history and a lamentable lack of flexibility and vision.” Canemaker is the first to say that he thinks Walt Disney himself would have been excited by computer animation and would have explored everything the technique had to offer. But Walt would have done so in a dignified manner, without dismantling the entire legacy of the studio:

But somehow I doubt he would have thrown the baby out with the bath water by abandoning hand-drawn animation. Walt was known to spend years trying to find the best way to deploy the talents of certain of his artists, and perhaps he would have found new ways to use the unique qualities of the hand-made moving image–its inherent warmth; the happy accidents of the human touch; the immediate intuitive link between brain, hand and drawing instrument; the special flexibility and style that is so different from the dimensionality, essential coolness and realistic imagery of CGI.

Another bit of Canemaker news worth noting: Part Three of the interview with him has been posted at Animation World Magazine. It is an excellent read wherein John speaks candidly about his multi-faceted career as indie filmmaker, historian and educator. Be sure to check out parts ONE and TWO as well.

MEL BLANC ON CD

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If you love Looney Tunes (and who doesn’t?), you’ll probably like these compilations of Mel Blanc novelty records and radio excerpts. PARTY PANIC was released a few years ago with the classic “Daffy Duck’s Rhapsody”. That CD is now joined by THE BEST OF MEL BLANC which has 25 tracks and includes Mel’s WOODY WOODPECKER song and a rendition of BARNEY GOOGLE. THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMEDY, an import, is also worthy for the bits with Jack Benny and Burns & Allen.(Thanks to Mark Dillman) That’s all, Folks!

John Kricfalusi Does Hollywood

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes

For my money, these recent celebrity caricatures by John Kricfalusi are some of the most outstanding examples of caricature I’ve seen in a long time. We tend to overlook the quirks of people’s facial features, but John picks up on these slight differences in our human architecture and exaggerates them to achieve a grotesquely beautiful comic effect. This is not the generic exaggeration of facial and body features that typifies most caricature work today (eg. almost anything in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY); these drawings have an intensity and specificity that truly comes from another place. It’s the same reason I love the work of Ronald Searle and Expressionists like George Grosz and Otto Dix: these artists, like John, don’t rely on the stereotypical images of beauty that have guided artists for centuries. Rather, they draw from the gut and search out their own truths, and the resulting work is infinitely richer and more honest.

KIDDIE RECORDS WEEKLY

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Once again it’s time to plug the ongoing 52 week project of Basic Hip Digital Oddio – their KIDDIE RECORDS WEEKLY archive/website devoted to showcasing classic 1940s and 50s children’s recordings (and their packaging: the covers, sleeves and labels). Each album is available to download and the selections have been remarkable. Disney soundtracks for SONG OF THE SOUTH and SALUDOS AMIGOS, the original Dr. Suess recording of GERALD McBOING BOING, Mel Blanc as WOODY WOODPECKER are among the recordings of interest to animation buffs.Two interesting finds among the collection: IT’S FUN TO EAT (1946) by Winston Sharples, features Jack Mercer on vocals and sports a Jim Tyer cover (above, signed on lower left as James Tyer) and label. Also note BELDA TALKING COMICS (from 1949, audio to be posted week 40, on Oct. 3rd) featuring artwork by Melvin “Tubby” Millar (of Termite Terrace fame), with vocals by Daws Butler and Marvin Miller.

AN EVENING WITH THE BEATLES

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The Van Eaton Gallery in Sherman Oaks is hosting an event around the 1965 ABC/King Features TV series THE BEATLES on Saturday August 20th. The guest of honor will be Ron Campbell, a longtime Hollywood animation industry vet (Hanna Barbera, Klasky Csupo, etc.) who started his career in Australia boarding and co-directing the original Beatle TV cartoons, then animating on the landmark feature YELLOW SUBMARINE. As tacky as the Saturday morning series was, it still holds a warm place in all our hearts as part of Beatle history. The event will start at 6pm and end around 10pm.

READER REPORT: Disney @ Siggraph

Bill Robinson, an animation student at RIT, sent the Brew some thoughtful comments about Disney’s appearance at SIGGRAPH ’05. Here’s what he has to say:

I was at Siggraph last week and I saw that same clip that the AICN guy was so excited about. I saw it a couple of times (once in the “Legacy of Disney Animation” special session and another on a tour of the Disney Studio given to students). It’s amazing! It seriously is that Fragonard painting in three dimensions. I have no idea how they did it, but I assume it worked off their Deep Canvas technology as it looked like real oil paint. The other clip, the animated one, was also very promising. I’m not sure that the story will be anything too wonderful (it involves a lot of shape shifting and people being turned into animals and such) but the visual style is going to be great.

I was amazed at the presence that Disney Feature Animation had at Siggraph, way overshadowing tiny little Pixar’s booth. They had one of the largest booths on the floor with three computer stations showing off the versatility of the characters from Chicken Little and Wilbur Robinson. There were Disney animators and technical artists teaching Maya Masterclasses, as well as the Disney Legacy special session and the tours they gave of the studio. They even brought Glen Keane in and introduced him as the face of the future of Disney animation. I can see from this massive effort that they are trying to put themselves on the map as the place to be for the top talent to work at. Pixar barely made a peep at the show, handing out some plastic teapots and hocking its Renderman software. I am happy to see that Disney only made the switch to CG after finding ways to do cartoony 2D animation in 3D. They showed some of their rigs for the Chicken Little characters and these things were terrific – squash and stretch, bendy arms and legs, fully sculptable silhouettes, smear controls on the mesh, the ability to literally break the rig into separate pieces and stretch things as far as you want in any direction…it’s all very promising.

Bill also wrote about other aspects of the SIGGRAPH experience on his blog HERE. The report includes photos and is a fun read.

Upcoming Ottawa Animation Festival Contest

Ottawa '05Heads up: on Monday, August 22, we’re having a most excellent contest on Cartoon Brew where we’ll be giving away two full passes to the Ottawa International Animation Festival (September 21-25, 2005). Two lucky individuals will each receive the Ottawa “Animapass” valued at $195Can. The Ottawa festival is a who’s who gathering of notable animation talents, and one of a handful of truly world-class cartoon events. These passes offer access to all the events at OIAF including:
* all screenings and workshops
* the famous OIAF picnic
* all the parties
* and an OIAF program book

Thanks to our friends at the Ottawa festival for generously making these passes available to Brew readers. Stay tuned for details…

AMERICAN DOG CLIP

Ain’t It Cool News has video clips from SIGGRAPH of test animation from Disney’s AMERICAN DOG and A DAY WITH WILBUR ROBINSON. You can view the clips HERE. The same AICN entry that hosts these clips also has a ridiculously over-the-top, and quite possibly fabricated, “fan report” on Glen Keane’s RAPUNZEL UNBRAIDED. I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney is trying to get some positive buzz out in front of this one, because RAPUNZEL sounds and looks like the weakest (and most exec-mangled) project among their upcoming CG films. At least one former Disney artist has already proclaimed online that the film is “a big f###ing mess.” (Thanks, Jeff Hunsel)

EARLIER ON THE BREW: The promise of AMERICAN DOG.

Watching Experimental Animation 101

Boogie-DoodleOttawa animation festival director Chris Robinson, aka “The Animation Pimp,” has penned a short and sweet piece at ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE about how best to view abstract/camera-less/scratch animation. He writes:

People don’t know how to react to these films. They think it’s a riddle, that there’s a deep dark mystery to be uncovered. In some cases, sure, that is true… but if you take a look at, for example, the work of [Steven] Woloshen, Richard Reeves, or Theo Ushev’s moving new film, TOWER BALLIHR, these are films about making you feel something. They convey the jumbled up emotions of their creators….they simply want to evoke emotions. You don’t need to seek out deep mysteries, you just need to shut up and let the images and music take you over.

ANIMATION BLOCK

animationblockbutton.jpgCasey Safron’s NYC based Animation Block is dedicated to exhibiting independent, professional and student animation through internet streaming, free public screenings, DVD distribution and their sponsored Animation Block Party festivals. They support their on-going efforts by selling T-shirts and buttons (one of which is pictured at right). They sent me their first dvd, Animation Block Party Mix Tape, and it’s a pretty good collection of old, new, quirky and obscure independent animated shorts. Veterans Howard Beckerman, Irra Virbitsky and Don Duga are side by side here with such new artists as Lori Samsel and Jeff Scher.Submissions are being taken now for their next Block Party September 15th at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

AMERICAN DOG

AMERICAN DOG

If this is what computer animation means at Disney, then I wish they’d made the switch years earlier. The new pieces of art shown at SIGGRAPH 2005 for Disney’s forthcoming AMERICAN DOG, directed by Chris Sanders, look just as gorgeous as the first examples of AMERICAN DOG art released last year. Does the film really look like this, or perhaps more appropriately, could the film really look like this? This is the type of animation art one typically only sees in the pre-production phase before it is watered down for the “needs of production;” the lush painterly quality of light and restraint in color styling are a refreshing departure from the aesthetic norm of Disney features. And dare I say, the Sanders style of character design translates even better to these images than they they did to his hand-drawn effort LILO AND STITCH. Yet another sign of promise is that Sanders is the sole director of the film, a significant change from the studio’s standard filmmaking-by-committee style of production. Sanders is, in fact, only the second director in modern Disney times to take the solo helm of a major animated feature. The first was Mark Dindal, who directed THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE (as well as the upcoming CHICKEN LITTLE) by himself. So far, everything about this film looks great, and the story sounds entertaining as well. If AMERICAN DOG somehow manages to deliver on the promise of these visuals, I predict the studio is going to have a major hit on its hands.

UPDATE: Scott Graham wrote to let me know that Sanders will not be the second, but the third modern director at Disney to helm a feature solo. Steve Anderson is directing the forthcoming A DAY WITH WILBUR ROBINSON by himself, and that film is scheduled for release before AMERICAN DOG.

AMERICAN DOG

OLIVE’S SWEEPSTAKES TICKET

Brew reader Tony Sykes in Sydney Australia spotted this down under:

I was somewhat shocked the other day when I saw a prime-time TV commercial broadcast on a major Australian network featuring our favorite spinach-munching sailorman Popeye, promoting a popular form of gambling, the Scratchies Instant Lottery (click on ticket at right for larger image). popeyelottery.jpgOnce such a fine ambassador for the healthy consumption of spinach to the kids of the world, poor old Popeye is now setting a fine example for the youth of today to squander hard-earned cash for the slim chance at striking it rich by gambling. That’s what I call making your cartoon franchise work for a living.Hats off to King Features Syndicate and Hearst Entertainment for paving the way. It could put a whole new spin on the Golden Age of animation. Gee, next we could have Daffy Duck Bucks, Bugs Bunny Money or, for the UK market, how about Huckleberry Hound Pounds. I personally can’t wait for the Itchy & Scratchy Scratchie!

The suits at King Features have no idea how powerful a character Popeye is. They think they do, but they don’t. If they did, they’d allow Warner Brothers to release their classic Fleischer cartoons on dvd. It’s like trying to market the likeness of John Wayne, but witholding all the classic John Wayne movies. We who understand must sit back and watch helplessly while King Features manages to destroy one of the great cartoon stars of all time.That said, I’m delighted to see Popeye marketed at all – on lottery tickets, Fried Chicken, maquettes or spinach – at least Stephen DeStefano’s artwork keeps the Fleischer spirit, and my hopes, alive.

MUSIC TIME WITH JANET KLEIN

janet7.jpgLest I forget, tomorrow night at 8pm in Hollywood I will be running several 16mm cartoons and vintage live action shorts – preceeding a live and lively performance of Janet Klein And Her Parlor Boys. We do this the first Thursday of every month at the Steve Allen Theatre, 4773 Hollywood Blvd. (two blocks west of Vermont, across from Barnsdall Park), in the lovely Los Feliz area. Please check Janet’s website (under “Showtime”) for even more details and nifty vintage artwork .

MOON AND SON Screening in LA

The Moon and the Son

THE MOON AND THE SON: AN IMAGINED CONVERSATION, the well-received 28-minute animated short by famed animation historian John Canemaker, will be playing in LA this weekend for its Academy qualification. The film screens on August 5, 6 and 7 at 11:30am and 12:10pm at the Laemmle Sunset 5 (8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA). I think ticket prices are normal admission prices listed on the site. From Taylor Jessen’s review of the film on AWN:

Animated shorts are a personal art form. THE MOON AND THE SON is really personal . . . a devastating colloquy that mines the content of the animator’s childhood even as it matches the form of his childhood drawings. . . . stylistically it’s completely liberated and roams freely between whatever media gets the point across quickest – still photos, stock footage, home movies and camcorder video as needed. There’s a potpourri of traditional non-digital techniques, applied to media ranging from cels to rough paper.

Just Wait Till Valiant Comes out

Now I don’t want to be a party pooper, because I know Disney’s already been saved and all, but has anybody else noticed that through July of this year, Disney is in sixth place for movie studio market share, or in other words, last place among the major Hollywood studios. On top of that, in 2005 they’ve released more movies (16) than any of the top five studios (Fox, WB, Universal, Sony, Paramount). Their sixteen films have grossed a combined total of $380 million domestically, or an average of just under $24 million each. To put that a bit into perspective, Pixar’s last two films for Disney — FINDING NEMO (2003) and THE INCREDIBLES (2004) — had a domestic gross of $601 million (an average of $300.5 million per film). On the bright side, just imagine how much worse things would be right now if Roy hadn’t saved the studio.

Will the real mighty mouse please stand up

I just noticed that one of the top search terms on Technorati, the site that tracks blog postings, was Mighty Mouse, which led me to wonder, why the sudden interest in this long-forgotten Terrytoons character? Has America suddenly discovered the joys of Mighty Mouse animation by Jim Tyer and Carlo Vinci? Are mice who sing opera back in fashion? Did some enterprising DJ do a remix of a Phil Scheib music score from a Mighty Mouse short? Rest assured folks, nobody has started caring about Mighty Mouse. As it turns out, Apple has just released a new computer mouse called Mighty Mouse, accounting for the name’s popularity on Technorati. At least Apple is putting the name to better use than Viacom, which has been sitting on the Terrytoons library for years, without the slightest intention of doing anything with the Mighty Mouse shorts. The question remains though, when will companies start marketing products named after Gene Deitch-era Terrytoons characters. I know I’d buy a “John Doormat” and a “Gaston Le Crayon.”

Mighty Mouse Vs. Mighty Mouse

Bug Me Not

Design Observer recently took a look at those graphic atrocities known as “station identification bugs.” The article offers few solutions, but the piece (along with its reader comments) make for an interesting read. One point the article doesn’t address is that if the true purpose of these bugs is to identify a network, then why do the channels insist on making the bugs as obtrusive as possible, with animation, sound and all manner of bells and whistles. My hunch is that it’s a ploy by cable channels: make the shows so unwatchable on cable that you’re forced to buy the dvds of the same show. Fortunately, I have neither cable nor buy any dvds of TV series, but I think I’m in the minority on this one.

TONIGHT IN LA: PES AT RES

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LA’s monthly RES MAGAZINE screening is tonight, August 2. This month’s program has a lot of animation in it, with the main feature being a retrospective of films by NY animator PES. He’ll also be at the screening to discuss his work. Other films on the program include the US premiere of Valérie Pirson’s short PISTACHE and music videos for Smoosh, Royksopp, Fischerspooner and American Analog Set. The screening is at 8pm at the Egyptian Theatre (6712 Hollywood Blvd.) and tickets are $10.

Tons o’ Monday Morning Inspiration

Ronald Searle drawing

Craig Yoe said it best in the recent anthology THE EDUCATION OF A COMICS ARTIST: “Those who don’t study the ‘toon past are doomed not to repeat it! And that’s a bad thing because the only good cartoonists are dead cartoonists; with maybe one or two errant exceptions.” One of the best places to keep up with dead cartoonists (and a few masters who are still alive, like Ronald Searle) is the Illustration section of the Cartoon Retro forum. There are currently some excellent posts on there filled with artwork by the likes of Aurie Battaglia, Abner Graboff, Ronald Searle, and other great illustrators that I hadn’t heard of. Also, if you have interesting art to share, join in and post to the forum. It’s open to all.